Bastardy Bonds and Banns and Marriage Bonds


In Colonial times a couple wishing to marry outside civil authorities.  The couple could publish a "banns" or intent to marry. After this "banns" was published for three weeks and no objections are raised the couple could be married by a clergyman without reporting to civil authorities. The only records would be in church records or family bibles.

From Blacks Legal Dictonary



A public announcement of an intended marriage, required by the English law to be made In a church or chapel, during service, on three consecutive Sundays before the marriage is celebrated. The object is to afford an opportunity for any person to interpose an objection if he knows of any impediment or other just cause why the marriage should not take place. The publication of the bans may be dispensed with by procuring a special license to marry.

Law Dictionary: What is BANS OF MATRIMONY? definition of BANS OF MATRIMONY (Black's Law Dictionary) 

In Tennessee, three documents were created at the time of a marriage. 

  1. The first was the marriage bond.

  2. The second was the license, wherein the court authorized the marriage, and the official signed the back to show that it had been performed.

  3. The ledger where the clerk copied some information from these two sources is known as the official marriage record, and is often the only surviving part of the record.

Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library & Archives; has furnished the following information on this subject according to his understanding of the material he has read. 

·         The groom had to assure the State that he was able to be legally married (was not already married to someone else, under age, or ineligible because of close blood relationship, etc.)

·         This assurance was given in the form of a bond for a certain amount of money. The friend or relative signed as the groom's security on the bond, commonly known as becoming a bondsman.

·         If indeed the groom had been sued for violating the marriage contract, the bondsman would have had to pay any legal damages if the groom defaulted.

·         No money actually changed hands at the time the bond was issued.

·         This bonding procedure was used across Tennessee and in other southern states in the 19th century.

This bond did provide legal protection for a woman who married a man and then found he already had a wife.

Bastardy Bonds

This bond was required from the father of illegitimate children. This bond was usually made with County Court where the mother resided. The intent was to protect the county from being forced to support the child. Occasionally, these records still survive.

John Haywood’s manual for Tennessee Justices of the Peace (1810, reissued 1816) lists bastardy as an un-indictable offence which can be tried before any two justices. If found guilty the father is to be brought before the full court to provide bond and security. This would be the County Court comprised of all the justices, not the Superior Court. The bond is technically a “bastardy” bond, not a “bastard” bond. (
Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library & Archives.

The following links explain the detals of these bonds. I have seen where these are used in Tennessee and North Carolina as well  in several other states.
While researching my paternal line I could not find a marriage record for my GGG grandparents marriage. I found a first and third marriage record for my GGG grandmother. It is my belief that she believed her first husband had died in the Civil War and she and my GGG grandfather used the "bann" approach. I have foud records showing a divorce from her first husband shortly after he returned from the war. This occured about a couple of years after her son was born in 1865. Her first husband  was in the confederate calvary.  There was a battle in 1864 near where they lived in Fair Garden. There were significant casulties in this battle and word may have gotten back that her husband had been killed. My theory  is based on the facts of the first and third provable marriages for both parties and her first husband sues her for divorce for abandonment in 1867. The 1870 census shows her back with her parents and in July 1872 she sues her second husband for divorce for abandonment.
The story passed on to me by my father was that his great grandfather left home one day to go to Jefferson County day to never return. I spoke to a decendent of the family that rented property to my line and he told me that he had been told that my GGG grandfather had been killed while crossing the Holstein River on a local ferry. As far as I and this gentleman know he and my father never met.  Same story by two different sources. Supposedly my GGGgrandfather was buried in the Ellis Cemetery that was next to the river.



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